20 Decisions That Shaped The City

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“A city becomes what it is by the accumulation of decisions made and the paths taken and not taken. To mark Avenue’s 20th anniversary, we take a look at 20 decisions, big and small, that have made Calgary what it is — a growing city, coming into its own, that we have had the honour and privilege of writing about for two decades.”

Fantastic idea, no? I share the byline on it with (tum-tum-tum):

 Chris Turner, Aritha van Herk, Cheryl Foggo (really!), Chris Koentges, Shelley YoungblutJason Markusoff and Fred Stenson–wait I’m not done yet…

as well as John Gilchrist, Jacqueline Moore, Karin Olafson–almost done…

and Avenue’s Käthe Lemon, Jay Winans, Meredith Bailey and Andrew Guilbert.

…which does sort of sound like the opening to “How many writers does it take to screw in a light bulb?” kind of joke…

…but isn’t. It’s just a great feature.

Full text in the January 2015 issue of Avenue, and of course, on-line: 20 Decisions That Shaped Calgary.

My two “decisions” below:

Becoming Part of the Energy

It’s not like there was much doubt that Calgary was the energy capital of Canada before the Mulroney government moved the National Energy Board (NEB) to Calgary from Ottawa in 1991. The move was long overdue: industry leaders argued that Canada’s national energy regulator should have been headquartered in Calgary from the day it came into existence in 1959. Its Ottawa locale was convenient only for the bureaucrats drafting the nascent legislation.

The move to Calgary transformed the NEB into a leaner, meaner and more real world-anchored entity. Some two-thirds of the NEB’s employees did not make the move from Ottawa. Not all of them were replaced, but the newly hired came, for the most part, from Calgary and had been reared in the city’s entrepreneurial, versus Ottawa’s bureaucratic, culture.

Thus transformed, the NEB, in turn, transformed Calgary. As G. Bruce Doern and Monica Gattinger write in Power Switch: Energy Regulatory Governance in the Twenty-first Century, “An NEB staff member in Calgary is likely to have lunch with an energy business person rather than another bureaucrat.”

While the relationship between the oil and gas industry and its regulators is always a little tense — no matter how strict or lax the framework, industry would like less regulation and the regulator more compliance — a Calgary-based regulator better understands the on-the-ground needs of the companies and projects over which it has dominion. That’s good for the city’s (and the country’s) economy. Just as having a national regulator call Calgary its home is good for the city’s ego. —Marzena Czarnecka

All In For the Olympics

Calgary has never lacked for guts, and the city-that-really-was-just-a-small-town first dreamed of hosting the Winter Olympic Games in 1957. The city bid, unsuccessfully, to host the 1964, 1968 and 1972 games. 

When, under the leadership of Frank King, the Calgary Olympic Development Association (CODA, now WinSport) decided to launch a fourth bid for the 1988 Winter Olympiad, it was determined to not just get the games, but to make Calgary a world-class winter sport training centre in the process.

CODA’s long-view bid set the stage for the upward trajectory of Canada’s medal performance at all subsequent winter games, transforming — permanently — both Calgary’s physical and psychological landscapes. Canada Olympic Park, the Saddledome, the Canmore Nordic Centre, the Olympic Oval and the Nakiska Ski Resort are all legacies of the games: purpose-built for the Olympics and built to last — to train new generations of athletes. 

And, while some past Olympic host cities have seen their expensive facilities fall into disuse, Alberta’s continue to be intensively used decades later.

Calgary’s performance — the games were televised, made money for the city, and showed future organizers how to harness grassroots volunteer power — transformed the nature of all future Olympic games. 

Most importantly for us, the games changed the way Calgary saw itself. TSN’s Vic Rauter called it “Calgary’s coming-out party,” and boy was it ever — the city came out, to itself and to the world, as a world-class city capable of hosting world-class events, on a scale no one else dared to before. It got on the world’s radar and the world’s map — and it declared it wasn’t going to disappear ever again. Marzena Czarnecka

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